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The Red Turtle: Movie with No Dialogue

The Red Turtle is a film with no dialogue and yet gives you the lessons and experience in the life of thousand words. The writer and director of the movie Michaël Dudok de Wit certainly re-presented the phrase ‘show, don’t tell’. This Oscar-nominated animation is a movie that transports you to a different place and offers viewers an empty canvas to paint their dreams with the feeling of what it means to be a human. The movie is about the romance of man with nature, shows man’s desire to create and makes you aware ecologically.

The movie opens with the familiar setting of a nameless man tossing in the turbulent and swirling sea. The man is swept until washed ashore on an island with dense bamboo forest and consisting of all the things necessary for human existence which is plenty of freshwater, food. While discovering the island the man falls in the hole/cave between the mountains and come out through it on the other side of the island. The man starts building a raft with bamboo- trying to escape, daydreaming and gazing at the moon- aiming to sail away.

But each attempt is defiled by an unknown force- which retreats from the view every time-destroying the raft and making the man return to the island. The tension can be felt at once when at his third attempt while on the raft- the man makes eye contact with the red turtle, who is Man’s tormentor. After that from the cliff of the island, the man sees the red turtle crawling on the shore and in anger hits the turtle with the stick and flips it over, angry at the refusal of the turtle to let him leave. While working on another raft he feels remorse and tries to flip it right (but it’s too heavy), offer fish to the turtle but finds that it’s dead.

The man laments over the death of the turtle and eventually falls asleep next to it. When the man wakes up he finds a woman asleep inside the shell. The man and the woman eventually fall in love, have a son, who is curious as the child gets, finds a glass bottle drifting ashore. The couple tells the boy their story by drawing on the sand. The boy soon befriends some turtles when he fell in the same hole his father fell.

 The boy grows. After a few years, a tsunami hit the island but they all survive through it. After a while, the boy dreams of swimming away in the sea. Although the couple is heartbroken at their only child for leaving the island they say goodbye and the boy leaves with the three turtles.

The man and the woman stay on the island, grow old together. Eventually, the man dies after gazing at the moon and the woman grieves his loss. And the woman turns back into a red turtle and swims back into the sea.

What it means:

The movie normalizes the man’s romance with nature as the man falls in love with the red turtle which shapeshifts into a beautiful woman and stops escaping and builds a home on the island. The film draws attention to the natural surrounding without breaking the point of contact between the viewers and the movie. Through the nameless man, we learn that nature being a physical presence is not out to get us but it’s fundamentally beautiful. The cycle of nature is shown beautifully by it the son leaves his home just as the man left his home. Man trying to leave his home while the turtle always has its home on his back.

During his failed attempts and living on the island alone, there is a mysterious interpretation to be made as to why did the man dreamed of the quartet and chased after them and the flight which took on the bridge over the sea.

The turtle may have destroyed the man’s raft but it also secured its existence on the island while providing it companionship. And when the Man beat the turtle it showed humans defensiveness and the feeling of false righteousness within humans. The way humans treat nature.

The hole/cave in which the man and his son fall represent their initiation to the island; in which the boys struggles less and become more harmonious with nature than his father- coming out on the other side, as a better man through the challenge. The challenge also shows the importance and impact of parental guidance and knowledge provided for the future generation who will carry it forward. The glass bottle may represent the world beyond and where it came from- the son leaving the island in search of that world.

The woman may start her journey again but it tells us who we are. Makes us understand our place in nature giving us an understanding of the environment. This movie shows that everything returns to its initial stage the woman/turtle returning to sea while the man will return to sand. Nature (here turtle) is higher and advanced than us and we have to reconnect with it.




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